Cuba Patriot, Thurs., January 17, 1884
Researched and Submitted by Richard Palmer
INTO THE FLAMES!
Railway Train on a Track of Fire.
Terrible Accident on the B.,B.& K.
An accident peculiar in its nature and awful in its results occurred on the Bradford, Bordell & Kinzua road Tuesday morning, three miles from Bradford. The train was one which left Wellsville at 6 o’clock that morning and reached the scene of its dreadful experience about 9. The engineer was patsy Sexton, fireman Michael Walsh, and conductor Frank Townsend in place of the regular conductor Jack Wallace. The particulars we condense from the account in the Bradford Era.
Situated about 150 feet from the railroad track and above it on the steep hillside was a 250-barrel tank on the Anchor Oil Company’s lease on the Buchanan farm. Oil escaped in some manner from this tank, ran upon and along the railroad track, between more or less concealed by the snow, it is thought, and made its way, following the track to a distance of nearly 1,000 feet down the grade in considerable quantities.
The engineer came so suddenly upon the oil, if indeed he noticed it in quantities to excite alarm, that he could not stop. The gas immediately caught from the fire in the boiler and the flames spread along the oily pathway with the rapidity of lightning, so that the train ran through a fiery pathway for several hundred feet, splashing the burning oil upon the cars.
The engineer or fireman did not see the oil until they were right upon it. They heard a dull explosion, and in an instant saw the engine bathed in flames, which threw out an insupportable heat and shivered the windows of the cab to atoms, and the air scorched their very lungs. Sexton’s first thought was to stop the engine, but seeing that it would be death for all to halt in that baptism of petroleum flames, ran on until roasting flesh and exquisite agony compelled him to jump off he would live.
With a last despairing effort he reversed the engine, opened the throttle wide and jumped, but not until his hands, as he handled the lever, fairly roasted so that the flesh was actually dropping from them. Then he leaped into the snow, whence his fireman had preceded him, but the train still sped down a grade of 130 feet to the mile, the drivers, which, though flying backward. being unable to grip the rails, which were well lubricated with wasted oil. The fire of course instantly destroyed the hose connecting the air brakes on the cars and rendered them inoperative.
The conductor and a number of the gentlemen passengers were in the baggage car. He ordered the doors at each end to be closed and this action undoubtedly saved the car and its occupants as the flames could not enter. When all saw their predicament they jumped into the snow and generally escaped without injury.
Language fails, however, to describe the awful state of affairs in the passenger coach. As soon as it entered the blazing pool the windows crashed and tongues of fire eagerly entered for their prey. In less time than it takes to describe it the car became insupportable to life. Some rushed for the doors, others sought liberty by way of windows, and squeezed madly through the narrow apertures. The train, from all accounts, was tearing along at a tremendous rate and the flames roared through the car, gaining strength with the impetus given by a down grade and a brisk breeze.
To jump was like leaping into a solid wall of fire, but gladly did the frightened souls avail themselves of this poor opportunity. Providentially the snow was deep and received all kindly. It was a but few moments ere the car was cleared of all but three persons, whose poor charred bodies were all that remained of two married ladies and an unfortunate girl. In the wake of the rushing pyre were victims rolling and tossing in the snow to cool the agony of frightful burns. After running half a mile the engine jumped the track on a reverse curve, alighting on its back in a ditch and dragging the baggage car almost intact after it. The coach, burned to the level of the tracks, remained partly on the track.
The dead were Mrs. Lewis Jones, of Rew; Miss Katie Moran of Aiken, aged 25; and Mrs. L.C. Fair, of Kinzua Junction, aged 22. Identification of these bodies was rendered possible by some fragment of dress or jewelry.
Prof. Francis Faught of Tarport was so badly burned that his recovery is doubtful. The engineer was badly burned about the head and face and the skin came off from his right hand like a glove. The conductor and fireman were both severely burned.
The others more or less injured were W.H. Belknap, Mrs. Black, Geo. Black, Lizzie Black, John Koffer, of Aiken; T.E. Fetzer and F.P. Fletcher, Bolivar; J. Haggerty, Hornellsville; C.C. Wright, Coleville; Geo. McCartney, Wellsville; Mrs. Thos. Barker, Bordell; K.B. Crane, Bradford; A.N. Carpenter, Little Genesee; G.W. Van, wife and son, Indianapolis; B.C. Early, Andover; daughter of W.E. Procton, Tarport; Chas. Hudick, express messenger, and Jerry Donovan, brakeman.
Supt. Williams, of the B., B. & K., characterizes Sexton’s act as heroic. He remained at his post until actually roasting alive, did everything he possibly could to save the lives of his passengers and then saved himself. Upon the skin of his hands, which are now nothing but masses of raw, sensitive flesh, were found the imprints of the levers which noble Pat worked while suffering unendurable pain in order that he might save human lives. It is gratifying to state that this humble hero will probably regain the use of his hands, through it will be a long and tedious process.